With four toddlers in tow, Danica Howard was looking for a place to sit. At Port Discovery children's museum Tuesday, she found a bench - across from the Wonder Widgets table - and watched as her son, younger sister and two godchildren placed odd-shaped widgets into appropriately shaped holes.
And she remained seated and relaxed even when, moments later, the four abandoned the task and began chasing one another.
This week, the combination of frigid temperatures, school vacation and cabin fever has parents looking for indoor activities to occupy the little ones. Many are turning to Baltimore's educational venues for entertainment and refuge.
"Obviously, summer is the busiest time for us, but for the fall and winter, this is the busiest week," said Michelle Winner, director of marketing at Port Discovery.
A busy week
According to the Association of Children's Museums, attendance spikes when school is out and weather is bad, almost guaranteeing a busy week for area museums.
Although Winner said Port Discovery encourages parents to play with the children, some moms and dads could be found snoozing on sofas, typing away on laptops or just keeping a safe distance while children frolicked.
But not all parents were hands-off. At the Maryland Science Center, the Chaney family of Owings Mills brushed sand together, uncovering a fossil they determined to be a part of a dinosaur jaw. After several vacation days of visiting family and enjoying Christmas gifts, the family wanted a fun outing.
"We try to always get out and spend some time as a family," said Mark Chaney, who was accompanied by son Adam, 7, daughter Amy, 3, and his wife, Beverly. "It's tough to find some down time," he said, adding that school vacation provides a perfect opportunity.
Howard said that at their home in Dundalk, her son, age 5, and her 4-year-old sister bicker nonstop when they're not in school. It's more than enough to drive her crazy after days of being stuck indoors.
"We've been at the house because it's been so cold," Howard said. "Today I thought, 'We have to get out of the house.'"
After several hours at the museum, Howard hoped the troupe would be worn out enough to give her a quiet night.
Anjali Sehgal's parents were hoping for a similar result after a trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore on Tuesday.
"If it was nice outside, that'd poop her out," said her father, Sunny Sehgal, of Calgary, Canada.
During the family's visit to relatives in Washington, there hasn't been much outdoor play time. But the aquarium seemed like an ample substitute for Anjali, 3.
"She loves fish. She could probably stay the whole day," said her mother, Mini Sehgal. "And there's a lot of walking."
Many families echoed Howard's sentiment - an urgent need to get out of the house.
Refuge from the road
But for the Tannous-Taylor family, the Maryland Science Center was a refuge not from home, but from the road. The family of four stopped in Baltimore on their way to Durham, N.C., from Pennsylvania.
The drive is about nine hours, Jennifer Taylor said, so stopping at the museum gave her daughters, Cecelia, 7, and Audrey, 3, time to stretch their legs.
Audrey took advantage, walking over and over through the Waking Tunnel - a tunnel with dozens of clear "ropes" hanging down from the ceiling to imitate the sensations of a waking body - grinning and giggling to herself while her mother took a seat and watched.
Sometimes, even hibernating college students have the urge to venture out. At the aquarium Tuesday, Nicole Puscian, a junior at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, admitted that she slept away last week, but this week she agreed to accompany her family to Baltimore.
"It was something to do," she said.